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You may be drinking higher levels of harmful sugar in soda than you thought

Harold Mandel's picture
Sugary soda

Excess fructose has been associated with serious health problems. We like to think that at least we may be able to place some controls over the risk from fructose in soda due to labels which help us monitor our consumption of this harmful sugar. However, recent research shows the labels on soda may be misleading and you may be consuming more harmful sugar than you thought.

Excess fructose consumption appears to be associated with metabolic disease risk

It has been hypothesized that excess fructose consumption is associated with metabolic disease risk reported the journal Nutrition. It is very hard to estimate actual fructose consumption levels due to the unlabeled quantity of fructose which is in beverages. Researchers therefore determined via laboratory analysis the fructose content in beverages which are made with and without high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) as an added sweetener.

The researchers found evidence of higher than expected amounts of free fructose in some beverages. Popular beverages which are made with HFCS have a fructose: glucose ratio of about 60:40. These drinks contain 50 percent more fructose than glucose. In some fruit juices there is actually twice as much fructose as glucose. It is suggested by these findings that beverages which are made with HFCS and some juices have a sugar profile which is very different than sucrose, in which the amounts of fructose and glucose are the same. Overall therefore dietary analyses may underestimate actual consumption of fructose.

Soda drinkers may really be drinking more harmful sugar than labels reveal

Soda drinkers may really be drinking more harmful sugar than labels generally reveal reports the University of Southern California in a discussion of this research. This study was done by the Childhood Obesity Research Center (CORC) at the Keck School of Medicine of USC, which is part of Keck Medicine of USC. According to the study consumers may be getting a much higher dose of the harmful sugar fructose than they have generally been led to think.

The chemical composition of 34 popular beverages was analyzed by Keck School of Medicine researchers. They found that beverages and juices which are made with high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) all contain 50 percent more fructose than glucose. This raises questions about claims sugar and HFCS are essentially the same. Sodas included in this study were:

1: Coca-Cola

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2: Pepsi

3: Dr Pepper

4: Mountain Dew

5: Sprite

What is actually being consumed in these sodas is neither natural sugar nor HFCS. Michael Goran, lead author of the study, said instead what's is being consumed is a fructose-intense concoction that may increase one’s risk for diabetes, cardiovascular disease and liver disease. Goran has explained the human body isn’t designed to process this form of sugar at these high levels. Glucose serves as fuel for the body. However, fructose is processed almost completely in the liver where it is converted to fat.

These findings challenge the claim that “sugar is sugar”

The Corn Refiners Association is a trade group which represents HFCS producers. This group has long argued that HFCS is actually only negligibly different than natural sugar, or sucrose, which is made up of equal parts of fructose and glucose. However, Goran’s analysis of beverages which are made with HFCS showed a fructose to glucose ratio of 60:40, which is considerably higher than the equal proportions which are found in sucrose. These finding's challenge the industry’s claim that “sugar is sugar.” The research has showed that the ingredients on some product labels do not properly represent their actual fructose content.

Americans drink the most HFCS per capita worldwide

This presents use with potentially serious health problems in view of the fact that Americans consume 45 gallons of soda each year. Americans drink more HFCS per capita than any other nation in the world. Consumption of HFCS has doubled over the last three decades. Over this same period diabetes rates have tripled. Clearly, a large part of this increase is directly associated with sodas, sports drinks and energy drinks.

The finding that Americans and other people worldwide are consuming too much harmful sugar in soda which can harm their health is disturbing. Concerns about this problem are exacerbated by the finding that people may actually be consuming even more harmful sugars than they thought. It is important to have a more accurate understanding of what we’re actually drinking along with specific label information on the types of sugars, if we are to be able to better confront this serious health problem.